It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. – Joseph Campbell
Not many people can say that they've gone swimming on November 7th in our Inner Basin - I now can!!! It nearly cost me my life though! What's worse, it wrecked my cell phone (but it was time for a new one anyway.) But there is no one to blame but “moi!
The vision of looking straight up from about one foot below the water's surface as I was slowly being dragged down by the sheer weight of my wet clothes, coat and shoes - the water is crystal clear right now - at the sunny "living" world above me is now indelibly stamped in my memory banks and it will always be there for me to refer to any time my mind wanders towards foolhardy thinking around the docks and the NYC. When you fall into cold water you quickly realize that life’s up and not-so-much down, and you really do not have much time choose up and then make it happen.
Now a friend of mine once mentioned to me that some things are better left unsaid, and I think that he is quite right, and this may fall under that category but I don't think so in this case as there is "sum lernin' to bee dun heer" and there are really two reasons why - one, I did learn a valuable thing about our docks and some deficiencies out there and as Dock Committee Chair I have the ability, the knowledge and the authority to do something about it - as well as some safety procedures that I'd like to implement, and two, that I am not as super-human and infallible as I'd like to think I am. You may also want to re-evaluate some things that you do (around the docks and elsewhere) as perhaps like me, you are also not super-human and may unintentionally and accidently get yourself into hot, or in my case cold, water.
It was supposed to be a simple job
Now the day started fairly normally with a plan of some work – both for my business as well as some on the docks, some play, and some adventure – the usual and ongoing search for 'the meaning of life and existence' stuff. I needed to come into the city to fly (to stay current as I need to go up every 60 days to do so – email me if you’d like to see Toronto from a Hawk’s point-of-view sometime and split the cost of the plane rental) and also to finish winterizing my boat and cover it - which didn't happen due to my unplanned Jacques Cousteau misadventure, and to check a few dock items as mentioned – multi-tasking at its finest. I also needed to go out onto D Dock to get a dinghy that someone had left out there (I was kindly asked to get it out as we – the Dock Committee – had disconnected the D Dock Bridge and the owner had no safe way of getting out there anymore and was out of the country anyway and could not.)
Well, I thought that the dinghy bit would be the easiest task of the day – how hard can it be to row, row, row your boat (a dinghy) about a 100 yards back to the launch ramp (which is no longer in the water) and haul it out. Well, I hate to say it as Dock Committee Chair, but I did everything wrong (and nothing right):
- I went by myself, with no life jacket
- told no one that I was doing this (flight plan stuff)
- didn’t pump the water out of this dinghy
- didn’t top up the air in the thing so it was rigid,
- didn't lighten my load – coat, car keys, cell phone, wallet, sunglasses, my RC (Radio Control) membership card, etc.
But again, I thought that it would not be much of a deal, take maybe eleven minutes, and be another "x" on my daily 'to do' list.
The first part went okay - getting onto the disconnected D Dock and out to the dinghy and rowing it back in, although there was a fair amount of water already in it and I did get a “Grade 2 Class” soaking. The real drama or should I say trauma began when I attempted to step off the dinghy as it was waaaaaay up to the top of the seawall, and the dinghy – with reduced air pressure due to the cold weather - folded and I went down with the ship. Well, I sort of fell off the back of it as it folded and I headed straight for the bottom enjoying that rare view, that only fish usually enjoy, looking up at the sunny world above me moving slowly the wrong direction - away.
Reacting quickly and smartly is key
As I was looking at this beautiful world slightly below periscope depth I knew that I had to blow the main ballast tanks and do a "crash surface" before it was too late but found myself very weighted down by all my clothes and coat and shoes. Plus it happened so quickly that I didn’t “fill ‘er up” with air – my lungs, that is. Being a fairly strong swimmer and with years of Scuba diving under my (weight) belt I headed up as I knew that one gasp would have sucked water into my lungs and then it would have been “Jimmy Hoffa” time.
The first thing that I thought after the initial cold water rush and surfacing back into the world of the living was hmmmmmm, now what?! How can I get out of this predicament?! How can I climb the great cliffs of Dover (or Gibraltar if you prefer) as that is what they look like from that perspective?! The lake level is waaaaay down putting the top of the seawall waaaaay up. Do I really want to be in the newspaper tomorrow - probably not even on the front page and who really reads the paper anymore anyway?
There was nothing much to grab onto and nothing much to climb onto – except a swamped dinghy and I'd still be no further ahead if I again got onto it, no one to yell to, no life jacket to keep me afloat mind you in this case it likely would have gotten in the way, my clothes pulling me down to Davy Jones' locker, and nowhere to swim to even if I could with all my gear on which was unlikely. It was a sad and desperate situation but still good adventure nonetheless and I actually had the presence of mind to think that it was and half enjoyed this grave situation. I live for adventure, like many of you reading this, and this was it – but I just didn’t really want to die for it! I quickly thought of the first thing you are taught when you learn to fly: “The superior pilot is the one that uses his superior judgement to stay out of situations that will require his superior skill.” Whoops, I didn’t do that – dang!
It takes on average three seconds to react in an emergency
And I read earlier in the day (in an Aviation magazine) that it normally takes about three seconds to decide what to do in a sudden emergency situation before you actually do. It took me less than 1/4 second as the water was cold, I was soaked and heavy, and time was of the essence. Fortunately I have a fairly good brain, although somewhat waterlogged by this point, and the cold water gave it a bit of an adrenalin rush and said “get busy." (But doing this dinghy haul as I did might disqualify what I just said about my brain being fairly good.)
Fortunately there were some bright yellow ramp hinges calling to me and they gave me enough of a hand hold – Cliff-hanger stuff – and using the dinghy as best I could as a foot brace, and being fairly strong, I somehow managed to get up and out but it was certainly not an easy task – actually nearly impossible. Lifting all those weights over the years at the "Y" came into play which only goes to prove you reap what you sow. I truly believe that few could have scaled that cliff – I barely could!
I, of all people, should have known better
Well, after I was up and out, I didn't know if I felt more hypocritical – always professing safety and planning for 'what if' and then not heeding my own warnings and constitutions or just plain dumb for being so dumb or is the word "stupid?!" I am quite sure that if it were April or May, when the water is really icy cold, I'd not be writing this right now. I have been upset in a canoe in late spring – not my fault but that of my random partner in a Grade 12 elective in Jordan Harbour – and know full well, from experience, that there is nothing much you can do when you take the plunge when the water is like ice except freak, panic and then drown. You lose control of your muscles quickly and become a human popsicle. I and my partner were quickly rescued by our rescue boat that chilly May day but if it were not there, we'd have been long forgotten statistics by now. Luckily, when I went in at the NYC inner basin the water was very cold but not yet freezing and my many past experiences cheating death gave me the where-with-all to do deal with it and right now.
And fortunately we have a hot showers and a washing machine and dryer at the club and lucky also that I had my travel kit and something else to wear in my car and I was back out to that @#&% dinghy in mere minutes but not before that hot shower to get the cold out that had penetrated me right down to my bones. Running around the NYC afterwards in the only spare clothes I had with me – my tank top and gym tights – in November and my hair still wet from that hot shower – prompted many comments from everyone that was at the club that day and the biggest laugh that I have ever heard from Marc (Williams.)
Well, I did still have to deal with the dinghy – which I pulled up and onto the launch ramp and secured it - very heavy and awkward and still half full of water, my expensive Serengeti sunglasses which had fallen from my face in the melee and ended up on the bottom - which I finally located which was tough due to the glare off the water's surface and the waves (and which I fished out later with a bent coat hanger duct-taped to a long stick) and then to top it off my gloves and hat which were still floating - which I mostly fished out. One (ski) glove, however, did get away and I had to wait until the west wind blew it over to Alexandra Yacht Club's docks which took about an hour (although I did try to get it with many throws with a nearby life-ring and line), get a long extension ladder to get out there to retrieve it as they have pulled their bridge up already and their gap is much bigger than ours – but this time with some help from some of their members that were all too happy to help out a poor NYCer in a tank top and gym shorts (in November) retrieve a wayward glove. Of course I did not tell them that I was the Dock Committee Chair and that I just went for a splash in our “dock pool!” No way, Jose!
Rules are created for a reason.
So, as mentioned, some things are better left unsaid but I am saying/writing these as this is my nature and we - myself, the Vice-Commodore of Marine Ops and the Dock Committee, need to not only come up with some solid rules about dock safety related to this possible situation but also heed them no matter how quick and easy the task my seem to be – Murphy's Law prevailed that quiet sunny day at the NYC about two weeks ago. I thought getting this dinghy over and out would be the easiest and most fun thing in my typically busy and variety filled day – wrong. This could have easily ended in tragedy and then Denys or whomever would have had to try to round up a new Dock Committee Chair.
I am sure that many members have had perhaps not similar but other interesting boat/dock tales and I can only hope that you will also take the time to write about them, as I have, and send them to Faith for our monthly newsletter. Others may learn a thing or two from your misadventures as I hope they do from mine, think safety from a new perspective and/or just get a big laugh out of your jaunt into the unknown. Let’s start a tradition here – tell us your on the edge or perhaps off stories!
The bottom line is “all’s well, that ends well” and that some lessons were learned and some positive changes will be made from my falling “into the abyss” which may help the next person that thinks that some things are easier done than said.
by, Don Williams – Dock Committee Chair – firstname.lastname@example.org